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RNI : UPBIL/2012/44732
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Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’-A Battle-Ground for Good and Evil World

Dr. Charu Mehrotra,
Research Guide,
Associate Professor and Head,
Department of English,
Bareilly College, Bareilly


Dharmendra Singh,
Research Scholar,
Assistant Teacher,
Shri Raghuraj Singh Inter College,
Khera Bajhera, Shahjahanpur

The Go-Between is a novel of social hierarchy by Leslie Poles Hartley published in Britain in 1953. It is about nostalgia, about the recovering of the past memories where those memories are not personal but collective and cultural. It expresses a critical view of society at the end of Victorian Era through the eyes of the hero, Leo Colston. He encounters a world of unimagined. Leo recalls his life of past fifty years. One day Leo was called to spend the hot summer 1900 at high class society of his school friend, Marcus Maudsley at Brandham Hall where he gets caught up as go-between (messenger). He evolves with Marcus Maudsley’s sister Marian and her lover, a local farmer Ted Burgess and in doing so he remembers the lost world of the late Victorian upper Classes. That world is golden period of Leo. Leo Coloston’s dream has attached itself very specifically to the twentieth century.
“The year 1900 had an almost mystical appeal for me; I could hardly wait for it. ‘Nineteen Hundred, nineteen hundred,’ I would chant to myself in rapture; & as the old century drew to its close, I began to wonder whether I should to see its successor. I had an excuse for this : I had been ill and was acquainted with death; but much more it was the fear of missing something infinitely precious-the dawn of a Golden Age”1 (GB p.9-10).
The Go-Between embodies the experience which can increase one’s love for and acceptance of life. It can immeasurably increase one’s tolerance for ambiguity in people and events. According to some social scientist, this tolerance is the primary attribute of true maturity. It seems that Leo is on the verge of attaining such maturity at Sixty-five. At such an age the achievement of Leo Colston is precious and rare. Leo had a child like vision. It was unreal. It idealised and left no room for evil but evil somehow or other crept into his vision and, therefore, his vision could be crushed by evil, the pride and passion within the child himself. Leo’s vision contents truth. He was never so false he realises, as when, on his thirteenth birthday at Brandhan Hall, he first tried to curb his imagination.
“I did not realise that this attempt to discard my dual or multiple vision and achieve a single self was the greatest pretence that I had yet embarked on. It was indeed a self-denying ordinance to cut out of my consciousness the half I most enjoyed. To see things as they really were-what an impoverishment.” ( GB-p 251).
The question before us is how to combine the child’s spiritual vision with the grown up man’s knowledge of evil? Hartley does not give any explanation, solution or answer to this question in the book. He is only interested in telling us exactly where we stand today. But the book as a whole aims at calling for a Higher Innocence and for generating a rebirth of faith and vision in a people whose faith has been shaken and ideals defeated by evil, violence and ugliness of our country.
When Ted talks to Leo about spooning, he emphasizes that it is natural and further stresses that without spooning with any one it would not be natural to be in love with some one. The young Leo sees that the world ‘Natural’ is the final world for Ted. Leo does not find any justification in this world. He says that he had never thought of it. He had thought of it as a kind of game that grown ups played. For him ‘spooning’ was not natural.
Anne Mulkeen aptly remarks, “Leo’s destruction of the ambiguous belladonna or night-shade plant – which has come to symbolize both the ambiguous Marian and the ambiguous mystery of sex in its beauty and dealiness-epitomizes the entire experience which he undergoes at Brandham, his innocence, his unknowing but fascinated involvement in sexual intrigue, his terror and the un-imagined destruction it wreaks, the living death and burial he brings upon himself.” 2
The following speech of Leo in The Go-Between tells us about his sexual experience. Leo says,
“………I was almost on top of the out houses before I saw the thick blur of the deadly night-shade. It was like a lady standing in her doorway looking out for some one. I was prepared to dread it, but not prepared for the tumult of emotions it aroused in me. In some way it wanted me, I felt, just as I wanted it; and the fancy took me that it wanted me as an ingredient, and would have me …………….. There was no room for me inside, but if I went inside into the unhallowed darkness where it lurked, that springing mass of vegetable force, I should learn its secret and it would learn mine. And in I went. It was stifling, yet delicious, the leaves, the shoots, even the twigs, so yielding: and this must be a flower that brushed my eye-lids, and this must be a berry that pressed against my lips.” (GB p.240-1 )
As Anne Mulkeen too has expressed in her book “Wild Thyme, Winter Lightning”, “While the symbolism is obviously strongly sexual, Bien’s emphasis upon this incident as a ‘sexual experience’ involving Leo’s unrecognized desire for Marian seems not quite Hartley’s point. Rather, this seems one of Hartley’s characteristic analogues or epitomes or controlling symbols summing up the meaning of the whole book.”
In the boy’s descriptions we notice the strong sexual hints and the suggestion of a whore standing in a door way but the boy does not know what he is describing or why it is so strong, soprimival, so dangerous so frightening yet so weak.
Evil prevails everywhere, it may be the heart of the universe, nature or human nature but it can not be fully understood. In the case of Leo his plight is an implicit criticism of the education, the Victorian attitudes that can throw him into life unprepared for its seriousness, can assume that heat, violence, sex are unmentionable which if ignored, may disappear. “Getting hot is always a risk. You need not do anything violent, need you?” (GB p. 30) Hartley often uses in his novels a character that may be called a ‘go-between’ character, man sometimes woman belonging to the middle-class representing more or less innocent humanistic approach to life. Such a character suddenly. finds himself caught between opposing forces or ideas. There is no choice either for accepting or rejecting these forces or ideas as the choice for either side can be destructive. The result of such a choice is usually bad and makes us question whether something is not wrong with the world view that sets up such a choice.
In his novel “The Go-Between” Hartley deals with one of the favourite themes; the duality of the natural, the beautiful yet terrible aspects of Nature mainly, here, the nature of sexual love. Young Leo finds the heat everywhere. He sees the passion between Marian and Ted in which he is badly caught up. This heat and passion are over-powering. That heat and passion reflect through Leo’s eyes and Hartley makes us look at the mystery and intoxication of sexual attraction. We become aware of the physical power and beauty of a Ted and the force of the passion between him and Marian. As is evident from the lines “She cried when she could not see me” says Ted. “How do you know?” Leo asks, “Because she cried when she did see me .. .. .. .. .. ..” (GB p. 115). There is the Story about the death of the fifth Viscount Trimingham in a duel over his insincere and faith less wife. This Story leads Leo to believe that strong passions between men and women can lead to murder.
The Go-Between is undoubtedly one of Hartley’s most successful romances if not the most Successful. It is a small book, There are many recurring symbols of colour, heat, natural, surroundings, clothing and the spells, signs of the Zodiac and mythical figures. By which a small boy’s imagination turns the natural into the supernatural.
This novel is replete with sexual feelings, the sense of the power of heat. The fact that Leo is uncomprehending and describes all with an innocent eye makes the reader’s awareness and understanding all the stronger. What is Hartley, saying about sex in telling it letting it be the chief agent of destruction in this novel ? If a modern man thinks that sex is an agent of salvation, Hartley wants to warn that it can be en agent of tremendous destruction also.
“The problem posed” in The Go-Between, Walter Allen says, “is how we should behave in the presence of evil.”3 The solution Hartley provides is not, however, as Allen claims, “to have no truck with it,” but to recognize its existence and nature, to withstand its assaults, and to turn knowledge of it to moral advantage. Leo Colston, the hero of the novel, narrates his story in the first person using ‘I’. Persona ‘I’ is not only important in some of the English novels but in American novels also. This type of character who narrates his story in the first person is not new for Hartley. He has treated such characters else where also. He is guided by his own personality. He does not seek guidance from outside. He is guided by his subjective perceptions. He tries to free himself from psychological obligations and tries to achieve a deep insight into the nature of the world. He considers the world a battle ground for the forces of good and evil. The Go-Between dramatizes his belief that man is free to mould his spiritual destiny as he likes.
Margret Moan concludes the emotional construction, “Leo undergoes is, by extension, that experience by modern England itself, so that the novel is a study of a society as well as of a particular individual. Leo’s story in fact, amounts to a rite of passages.”4
The Go-Between is a version characterized by an inchanted stillness and a dispensation from historical change. Ted Burgess makes Marian Maudsley conscious of the reality of sexual passion. But at the end of the novel Leo dispells the world of Brandhnam -Hall from the spell of enchantment that he had placed on it through an encounter with the atropa balladona that symbolizes evil. Hartley’s book is ‘a superbly crafted unity of complexities’ Anne Mulkeen argues, which manages both “to affirm and to question the Lawrencian ‘yes’ to life and Love.” 5
The plot construction of The Go-Between is similar to that of The Boat and Eustace and Hilda, in as much as the narration is concerned. The elderly Leo Colston of the prologue to The Go-Between says to his younger self, “you flew too near to the sun and you were scorched. This Cindery, creature is what you made me.” (GB p. 23)
The Go-Between is adjudged as Hartley’s most successul novel so far as his treatment of themes regarding his moral vision is concerned. He sub-ordinates, the problem of conduct to the characterization of the youthful Leo Colston. His romanticism is responsible for his imaginative distortion of reality and his instinct for worship. Leo betrayed the; confidence of Ted Burgess by taking Mrs. Maudsley to the place where Ted and Marian were engaged in a love making scene. The consequences that ensued from this scene clearly show that Leo had no knowledge of the “nature of adult passion. Marian, Lady Trimingham is perfectly justified to chide the elderly Leo for lacking so emotion and for failing to appreciate that dearth of love is the greatest sin. She feels that the greatest curse is if one does not have a Loving heart. The tragic story of Leo’s life is that as a boy he did not know that the sublimest form of love is self-sacrifice. His selfless love makes him act as “go-between” for Marian and Ted first and then for Marian and her grandson. It is through the characterization of the elderly Leo Colston that Hartley indicates that Love is the true goal of a man.
The Go-Between is adjudged as Hartley’s best novel. Anne Mulkeen aptly remarks,
“Characteristically, however, Hartley’s book ends – not, as Hawthorne’s story does, with the death of the innocent-turned-cynic-but at the moment when he at last comprehends what has happened to him. Hartley wants, perhaps, to show the post-war world a complex symbolic picture of the past fifty years, having put the last piece in place before his audience, he will step back, his task done, to see if in the flash of comprehension any spark of new life is communicated.”6
So far as the examination of the dimension of love, nature and implications of the sexual relationship is concerned, The Go-Between can be compared to D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. It depicts the love story between a girl of the upper-class and a physically robust young farmer.
Harvey Curtis Webster says (diffidently, particularly when I remember the high quality of Eustace and Hilda and The Boat’) that “because it includes almost all of Hartley’s varied preoccupations in intense unity The Go-Between seems to me his best novel.”7 It is indeed, a superbly-crafted unity of complexities, in less than three hundred pages managing at once to affirm and to question the Lawrencian yes to life and Love; to tell an absorbing story and suggest the interlocking meanings of a number of lives; to recreate in critical perspective the first fifty years of the twentieth century, its wars, its social and religious revaluations- and the vacuum now left for those who follow after.
Hartley-adopts a new technique as far as the plot construction of The Go-Between is concerned. It moves back and forth between single and double-vision and enables us to experience the dialectic between fact and imagination. The book is about seeing, about vision and double-vision. It narrates the story, narrates the encounter of a sixty-five year old bibliographer who remains buried for years under cliffs of dingy paper with his diary. This diary tells the story of the summer 1900 and his life. Many critics are of the opinion that Hartley is most successful in depicting children and the past; and it is impossible not to agree with them: Hartley is unsurpassed at working through the imagination of a Leo to invest a natural setting or a social gathering – or the world itself- with radiance end significance. The Go-Between is literally, a beautiful book; it manages to recreate the beauty of a child’s world before evil inevitably shatters that world. In The Go-Between the double-visioned form Hartley created achieves its peak, giving us at one and the same time, within very small compass, an absorbing personal history/love history, an important social/historical description and analysis of the first fifty years of the century, and – running through all this-a fascinating inquiry into the modern workings of good and evil.
References and Books Concerned
1. L.P. Hartley : The Go-Between : 1953 : Hamish Hamilton, London
Note: The page nos. of the text are given along with the quotes.
2. Anne Mulkeen : Wild Thyme Winter Lightning : The symbolic Novels of L.P. Hartley : H.H. London p. 104
3. Walter Allen : The Modern Novel in Britain and United States : New York : E.P. Dutton & Co. 1964 p. 253
4. Margaret A. Moan : Settings and Structures : An Approach to Hartley’s The Go-Between; Critique Studies in Modern Fiction : 1973 p. 28
5. Anne Mulkeen : Wild Thyme Winter Lightning : The Symbolic Novels of L.P. Hartley : H.H. London. p. 98
6. Ibid. P. 97
7. Harvey Curtis Webster : The Novels of L.P. Hartley Critique, IV : 1961. p. 50

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